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Telluride Film Festival: Jason Reitman returns flying high

September 5, 2009 |  8:49 pm

Clooney When director Jason Reitman brought "Juno" to the Telluride Film Festival two years ago, it was the start of something big. The comedy not only went on to become a break-out hit (domestic gross: $143.5 million) but also brought screenwriter Diablo Cody the best original screenplay Oscar.

Reitman was back in the Colorado resort town Saturday night with a sneak preview of "Up in the Air," and, judging from the audience reaction at its first, sold-out showing, the 31-year-old filmmaker may have another critical hit for a follow-up.

Unlike "Juno," which featured a cast of unfamiliar names in an unfamiliar story about teen pregnancy, Reitman's new film stars George Clooney and is adapted (albeit very loosely) from Walter Kirn's acclaimed existential novel of the same name.  Reitman, who shares screenplay credit with Sheldo Turner, retained only the central character (Clooney's Ryan Bingham) and central conceit (Bingham is a frequent flyer-obsessed corporate downsizer) from Kirn's 2001 bestseller.

Bingham travels more than 300 days a year, and his job isn't pretty. Even as he racks up boatloads of miles, upgrades and loyalty program honors, Bingham is flying around the country to tell people they have lost their jobs. (Reitman's film includes video interviews of real people who recently lost their jobs as some of Bingham's victims, and the movie's closing song was submitted by an out-of-work musician.)

Where Kirn's novel chronicled Bingham's increasingly tenuous grasp on reality, Reitman's film adds a number of characters (primarily a young associate played by "Twilight's" Anna Kendrick and a love interest by "The Departed's" Vera Farmiga) and subplots to accentuate a different aspect of Bingham's life: his emotional separation from other people and his own self. Reitman said the idea that Bingham was militantly single was part of what attracted Clooney, perhaps the world's most famous bachelor, to the project. "There are these interesting connections between him and the character in this film," Reitman said.

"I wanted to make a movie where a guy recognizes the importance of connection. That's what this movie is truly about -- connecting to other human beings," Reitman said after the screening. "This is the most personal movie I've made," said Reitman, whose debut feature was 2005's "Thank You for Smoking." "And it could very well be the most personal movie I'll ever make."

"Up in the Air" now travels to next week's Toronto International Film Festival. After that, we'll see how high the movie can fly.

--John Horn

Photo: George Clooney in a scene from "Up in the Air." Credit: Paramount Pictures